Carlsbad, California may be a laid back beach community most of the year, but each April the idyllic seaside village turns into a laboratory of speed with the coming of the Carlsbad 5000. Since its inception in 1986, the self-anointed World’s Fastest 5K has more than lived up to its billing. Home to both the current men’s (13:00) and women’s (14:46) 5K road world records, and site of the top 18 performances ever for men, and seven of the top 10 times for women, Carlsbad is an ever-tested proving ground.
Yet there is one record — even beyond Sammy Kipketer’s other-wordly 13-flat from 2000 & 2001 — which has stood the test of time, but which will again come under pressure this Sunday morning at the 28th annual Carlsbad 5000.
In 1996 San Diego native Marc Davis finished third behind Mexico’s Armando Quintanilla (13:18) and Zimbabwe’s Philemon Hanneck (13:22). Davis ran 13:24 on the seaside course that day, and no American has ever toured the paper-clip styled layout faster since. This Sunday, however, two more Americans will hope to ride another exceptional lead pack into the record books.
(Ed. note: make that three Americans, as reigning U.S. mile and 3000m indoor champ Will Leer has been signed. Will ran PR 8:21.53 to place 5th at Jan. 16th Millrose Games 2-Mile in New York, then 3:56.35 to take 2nd at February’s Boston Indoor Grand Prix mile.)
London Olympic 1500 meter silver medalist Leo Manzano will be running his first ever road 5K, while Bay Area Track Club star David Torrence will be making only his second attempt over that road distance. Both have tried the 5000 just once on the track.
Last year Torrence raced 5000 meters at Stanford’s Payton Jordon Cardinal Invitational, kicking a lap too soon with Lopez Lomong. While Lomong still managed to win in 13:11.63, Torrence slid back to seventh position in 13:16.53. He is said to be in American record shape coming in from his winter training base in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Manzano had to dig back to the final race of his senior year at the University of Texas to uncover his lone track 5000, a 14:49. He discounted the road 5K he ran as a 13 or 14 year-old.
“I’m excited to see what I can do,” said Manzano on a conference call from his home in Austin, Texas. “My body feels good, and I, too, spent the last month down in central Mexico training. I’ve been doing six-mile tempo runs where I come through 5K in 15:00. So I know I can run a lot faster.”
When apprised of the Marc Davis American record, Leo admitted that he had a time in mind for Sunday, but demurred when asked what it was.
“I think for sure I want to run fast and be competitive,” he admitted. “Whether I stick with the guys up front or lay low is the big question. I have a big kick, so if I can hang on…”
SHOULD I GO OR SHOULD I STAY?
This is the conundrum for almost every non-African athlete at Carlsbad. Though there are no pacers as such, the history and expectations of running fast, along with the enthusiastic crowds who have just run the fan-friendly course in age and gender specific races, combine to generate a giant wave of emotions which the athletes ride from the start. That, however, can come back to bite them in the ass in the final mile, too. Go out at near 4:00 for the first mile, and you can blow up in the third mile. But don’t go out with the leaders and you may have to run the entire race in no-man’s land.
At least this year Manzano and Torrence will have top Aussie Collis Birmingham, 4th in 2008, 5th in `09, and recently a competitive 8th at the World Cross Country Championships, in the field with them (along with Will Leer).
“I’ve been on-line and watched some You Tube videos,” Leo admitted, “but it’s a completely different ballgame being out on the course. So I’ve got to believe in myself first. I’m excited to be in the mix with these guys.”
“These guys”, as he calls them, is another who’s who of middle long-distance racing. 2011 World and 2012 Olympic 5000-meter silver medalist and two-time defending Carlsbad champion Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia returns in search of a historic three-peat. He hopes to join course designer and first three year’s champion Steve Scott (1986-1988), world record holder Sammy Kipketer (2000-2002) and the late Dejene Berhane of Ethiopia (2003-2005) in that select category.
Gebremeskel also finished second at Carlsbad in 2010. But even with those credentials he is no clear favorite. Not with last year’s runner up Hagos Gebrihiwet coming in after a dominating win in Poland at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior race March 24th.
As close followers of the sport can testify, with the Kenyans and Ethiopians, not only is the exact age of the competitors sometimes in doubt, but it’s almost like officials could just flip a coin to decide who runs the junior race, who the senior, the talent is so deep and strong. In fact, to prove the point, 18 year old Gebrihiwet is only a year younger than Japhet Korir, the Kenyan who won the senior division at World Cross Country.
But even after mentioning those two Ethiopian fire-breathers, we still have to acknowledge three more Ethiopian “A” listers: 2012 Olympic 10,000 meter bronze medalist Tariku Bekele, 2011 World Champion at 10,000 meters Ibrahim Jeilan, and 22 year-old Yenew Almirew, an aspiring 12:48 5000 meter man on the track. Both Bekele and Jeilan have experience in Carlsbad, Bekele finishing fourth last year in 13:16, Jeilan taking seventh in 2009 in 13:30.
Stacked is hardly sufficient a term to describe the gathering. Pro athlete recruiter Matt Turnbull calls it the best field he’s ever put together in the five years he’s been with Competitor Group, a claim that is hard to argue.
HOW THE WEST WAS WON
“I’m mind-boggled that the (American) record has lasted so long,” Marc Davis told me from his home in Boston where he is Communications Manager for the Boston Athletic Association. “I don’t know how Al (coach Salazar) got me in shape for that. It will take a special, special guy on the right day to break it.”
Thing is, Carlsbad is actually not the fastest 5K course in the world by any means. Shaped like an open paper clip, the course has two 180-degree turns and an insidious rise throughout the second mile. What’s more, with the pros going out after noon (12:47 for men, 12:49 for women) the weather becomes a factor that the earlier age-groupers don’t have to contend with.
“I grew up surfing Tamarack (Beach),” recalled Davis. “I’m aware how every day the wind comes up around 11:00 – 11:30. That sea breeze comes up right after the first hair-pin turn at 2K. But in 1996 we ran the elite race at 10 a.m. And that was one of the last years when Carlsbad was on the same weekend as World Cross Country, not after it. So we didn’t have a bunch of 12:40-shape 5000 guys coming in hot after World Cross. In fact, we had a pack of four or five guys together through two miles. Nobody was trying to run 13-flat or go out at 4:00 for the first mile. I think we hit splits of 4:10 and 8:24 or so, respectable, but not crazy.
“I keep calling Matt Turnbull every year asking him, ‘how much do I have to pay you to dump a bunch of marbles out the back of the press truck to protect the record?’” Marc continued with laugh. “But he always says, ‘don’t even bother. It’s not going to happen’.”
But that’s why we go racing, you never know. Nobody expects Sammy Kipketer’s 13-flat time to go down, despite the impressive field, and the American record has withstood the challenge of men like Meb Keflizighi, Alan Webb, Dathan Ritzenhein, Tim Broe and Dan Browne. Anthony Famiglietti came the closest in 2009, finishing sixth in 13:28.
“Winning the silver medal (in London) kind of set me free,” Leo Manzano concluded in our teleconference. “Now I can go back to enjoying running. You know, it can become like a job after 13 or 14 years focused on the same event. You can get stagnant. It’s one reason I’m doing the road 5K. It’s a new sense of freshness. I can let loose.”
Maybe all the way into the record books? Remember, it was the great miler Steve Scott who won the first three Carlsbad 5000s (1986-1988). And Steve still has the fifth best time in U.S. road 5K history, 13:31 from 1988. Let’s see if Leo Manzano can take down the best miler’s record at Carlsbad first, then kick home for the American mark. We’ll find out Sunday around 1pm Pacific Daylight Savings time.
Finally, recent high school running phenom Lukas Verzbicas, who opted to pursue a career in triathlon over running, but was seriously injured in a cycling crash last July while training in Colorado Springs, will be lacing up his racing flats in the 20-29 age group event before the pros on Sunday.
Young Lukas has made a remarkable recovery from his injuries, and has been down training in Chula Vista at the Olympic Training Center with 1984 Olympic 800-meter champion Joaquim Cruz. From what we’ve heard, Verbicas may have been re-bitten by the running bug, perhaps with an eye on that rarest of doubles, a spot on the 2016 Olympic team in triathlon and maybe the 10,000m or even Marathon squad, too. As Dan Cruz, Competitor Group’s PR maven says, “which would make him the Bo Jackson of endurance sports. And you and I both agree that the Olympics could use more personalities like Bo Jackson!!